June 8, 1948, was the second and final day of anti-Jewish rioting in the northeastern Moroccan towns of Oujda and Jerada, in which 44 people were killed and some 60 wounded. The massacres, whose circumstances have never been definitively determined, came weeks after Israel’s declaration of statehood, and contributed to a dramatic upsurge in the departure of Jews from Morocco, most of them to Israel.
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Oujda, where the violence first broke out on June 7, 1948, is a large city (today its population is about 450,000) very close to Morocco’s border with Algeria, some 50 kilometers (31 miles) inland from the Mediterranean. In the year beginning from May 1947, some 2,000 Moroccan Jews fled the country for Palestine, many of them passing through Oujda before crossing into Algeria.
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Within days of Israeli statehood – which was declared on May 14, 1948 – the Moroccan sultan, Mohammed V, delivered a speech in which he warned his country’s Jews not to demonstrate “solidarity with the Zionist aggression,” but also reminding Morocco’s Muslim majority that Jews had always been a protected people there. Because the address contained both a statement of support for the Jews and an implied threat against them, the effect of it on anti-Jewish sentiment is difficult to gauge.
What is clear is that on the morning of June 7, rioters descended on Oujda’s Jewish quarter and killed four of its Jewish residents, as well as a Frenchman, and wounded another 30. Late that night, and continuing into the next morning, rioting also began in Jerada, a much smaller mining town some 60 kilometers (37 miles) to the southwest of Oujda. There, 37 Jews were killed – including the town’s rabbi, Moshe Cohen, and four family members – out of a total Jewish population of approximately 120.
Damage to property was also extensive in both towns. As police arrived only several hours after the violence began, they could only assess the losses. And when the pasha of Oujda, Mohammed Hajoui, condemned the violence and even visited the homes of all its victims, he was attacked on June 11 in a mosque in the city.
At the time, Morocco was still a French colony – independence was granted only in March 1956 – and the French commissioner for Oujda, René Brunel, pinned responsibility for the outbreak of violence on the Jews – for their passage through Oujda on their way to Israel, and their supposed sympathies with the Zionist movement. According to a report by the French Foreign Ministry, it was “characteristic that those in this region near to the Algerian border consider all Jews who depart as combatants for Israel.”
For its part, the French League for Human Rights and Citizenship blamed the French authorities for their lax control in the area.
A number of officials from the local mining federation were put on trial on charges of instigating the massacres, with several of those convicted the following February being sentenced to life imprisonment with hard labor, and others to limited sentences.
If before Oujda and Jereda there had been a stream of Jews departing Morocco, afterward it became a flood. During the next year, 18,000 of Morocco’s 250,000 or so Jews left for Israel. Between 1948 and 1956, when emigration was prohibited, the number reached about 110,000.